Sunday, 6 January 2013

A Meditator's Guide to the Golden Land

A young nun in Sagaing offers rice to a young novice on his alms round. Both given and receiver must be barefoot according to custom
U Myint Toun Zay Pagoda in Sagaing.
We recently made available a document that provides a series of notes for Vipassana pilgrims who come to Burma to deepen their practice. This was a rather informal PDF file that detailed basic information for navigating and making the most of the Burmese meditator experience.  

Preparation is now underway for a much more comprehensive 3rd version, which we anticipate coming out around April/May 2013. We are really excited about the changes that are 
The sun setting over Mandalay Fort
coming to it; not only does it have updated information about logistics, monasteries, culture guides, and a "meditator Burmese" section, but it will also be formatted as a sleek, reader-friendly, and essentially proper guidebook. 


Monks and novices residing at Webu Sayadaw's monastery in Ingyinbin, Upper Burma

There will be no cost to the final version and all contributors are giving their time as dana to the project. (We will invite any yogi who benefits from their use to make any contribution for which they have volition to a Burmese charity in which all proceeds go towards impoverished villages, orphans, and the spread of dhamma) 



Waiting area at Mandalay Airport
Also note that while the 1st and 2nd versions were written almost entirely with the Goenka meditator in mind, the 3rd version will be more broad-reaching and non-sectarian. While it will still be particularly relevant to those coming from the Goenka tradition, we expect that yogis practicing other traditions of Theravadin Vipassana will also find it of great value.

If you would like to contribute in any way, please get in touch with us (burmadhamma@gmail).  Examples of ways other yogis are contributing are: professional photographs from Burma, on-the-ground fact checking, technological or formatting assistance, networking, etc.  Even if you are not able to contribute, please check back here regularly so that you can make use of the updated version!


A young novice resting on the Pali tablets made from Ledi Sayadaw's words at his monastery in Monywa.

Following is a selected text that comes from the working introduction to the 3rd version...


An old photograph of Sayagyi U Ba Khin at IMC

When we, as the contributors, found our way to The Golden Land for the first time, we experienced a sense of being overwhelmed with how to best navigate the culture and language in the limited time available.  It was also a challenge to figure out how to reach key meditation sites, and then how to properly pay respects and maintain practice once there.  For this reason, the overall intention of this document is to help meditators in making the best use of their time as they deepen their devotion to and practice of Dhamma while in Myanmar/Burma.  





Anagami Saya Thet Gyi's private meditation cell in Pyaw Bwe Gyi Village
The original template for these notes came in the form of a long email message responding to a request by a meditator who was heading to Burma and who had inquired how to best schedule his days while there. This message was later forwarded on to many others who were also hoping to make the trip and were in the process of planning their schedules.  In 2008 this stream-of-consciousness email was organized into document form and revised, and in 2009 was further edited.  This current version may be thus considered the 3rd edition of these notes.


A local NGO run by local meditators organizes a children meditation course for survivors of the 2008 Cyclone Nargis.  (Any donations given to this project will go to this charity for their continued work)


Natural hot springs shower at Webu Sayadaw monastery

For a meditator to visit Burma even just a few years ago, there was no guide of which to speak, and many spent their days trying to figure out first what sites even existed, and then where they were located and how to reach them.  This often left many important places off the list and required more time and effort in tackling logistics than tackling meditation.  Burma guidebooks naturally do exist, but meditators have their own special needs and interests that the standard books often don’t cover.  For example, while yogis generally have less interest in the best bars and beaches, our kind tends to have a far greater desire to learn how to get healthy vegetarian food or communicate about Buddhist principles.      

A group of four meditator set up a makeshift mosquito net for their Vipassana self-course in a Sagaing cave

Pindaya Cave in Shan State

While the first version was simply intending to organize and update existing notes, we as contributors immediately received positive feedback and gratitude, as well as complaints as to what was left out or no longer relevant.  None of us realized the commitment we were thus making to simply format a series of notes!  But here we are now, with a third version that has become even more comprehensive. 


A Sayadaw from a small monastery deep in the Sagaing Hills feeds a monastery dog in the cool morning.